BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Let us not detain you long with remarks about “The Atmosphere of Memory,” a bad play by David Bar Katz about a playwright creating a bad play drawn from his bad experiences as a boy.
It’s bad all way around, except for enjoyable performances by John Glover and Ellen Burstyn as the woe-is-me writer’s warring parents.
Save your money for a ticket to see “Other Desert Cities,” a far better realization of family agonies, and steer clear of Labyrinth Theater Company’s premiere of Katz’s terrible drama that opened Sunday at the intimate Bank Street Theater.
The nice title is derived from Tennessee Williams’ production notes for “The Glass Menagerie,” and that’s about as poetic as this thing ever gets.
Katz’s preposterous story regards Jon (a whining Max Casella), a celebrated author madly rewriting an autobiographical drama about his miserable family even as the show –titled “Blow Out Your Candles, Laura” — staggers through Broadway previews. Jon’s mother (Burstyn), not so incidentally, happens to be a distinguished actress making her comeback playing a woman based upon herself.
Having kept painfully detailed journals since early boyhood, Jon refers his parents and sister (Melissa Ross) to them when they object to his depiction of their life. As these individuals and several actors performing Jon’s alleged masterpiece express their viewpoints on the characters, the play-within-the-play evolves through dubious variations that somehow winds up in Gilbert & Sullivan.
References to O’Neill, Ibsen, Shakespeare and similar greats underscore the less than mediocre quality of Katz’s often vulgar writing and feeble craft. His patchy text uneasily shifts between would-be comedy and should-be emotional outbursts of feeling. The tonal inconsistency is especially annoying.
Director Pam MacKinnon, who has done beautifully by “Clybourne Park” and other major works, wisely steers this labored, overlong affair towards its humorous side. Dealing with a cramped performance space, set designer David Gallo copes fluently with the story’s demand for many changes in location.